by Sharanya Pillai
AFTER the 2001 General Elections (GE), there was the “Super Seven”, or what The Straits Times then described as “the circle of high-fliers fast-tracked into high political office”.
They were then fresh faces: Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Mr Cedric Foo, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Mr Raymond Lim, Mr Ng Eng Hen, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan. Today, we know them as past and present flagbearers of the G. Except for Mr Foo, who did not hold political office after 2005, and Mr Lim, who left the fray in 2015.
Now, over a decade later, there are seven again.
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This time, the MSM has settled on a broader catchphrase: the 4G, or fourth generation of leaders, who were elected in the 2011 and 2015 GEs. Among the newly-minted ministers are Messrs Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat, Desmond Lee, Ng Chee Meng, Ong Ye Kung, Tan Chuan-Jin and Lawrence Wong.
But the 4G batch extends well beyond the superstar shortlist. A count by The Middle Ground found that over a third of all political office-holders – including Ministers of State, parliamentary secretaries and mayors – are new kids on the block.
In our analysis, we considered those elected in 2001 and 2006 to be of the “3G” batch, while those elected in the 1980s and 90s are of the “2G” cohort. And of course, who else could be of the “1G” category other than the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was Minister Mentor from 2004 to 2011.
The 4G leaders are certainly making their presence felt, especially with PM Lee’s May Day announcement: the Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity (CSIP) is getting a new name and new blood. The rebranded Future Economy Council (FEC) comes with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat taking the reins from Deputy PM Tharman, as well as the addition of Second Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and departure of Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say. Both Mr Heng and Mr Wong were elected in 2011.
It is also interesting to note that the key members of the FEC mirror those of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), set up in 2016. Confusingly similar acronyms aside, both committees are almost exclusively made up of 3G and 4G members, with the exception of 2G stalwart and Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran.
Other 4G members climbing up the ranks include Dr Janil Puthucheary, Dr Koh Poh Koon and Mr Chee Hong Tat, who will be promoted to senior ministers in their current ministries. The promotion will now give them access to Cabinet meetings and perhaps open new pathways for their rise.
With the ascent of the 4G, it’ll be interesting to watch how the 3G batch progresses as well. Female representation has been wanting in Cabinet, but 3G Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo snagged a promotion to join Ms Grace Fu in serving as a full minister. Mrs Teo will be shadowing 2G minister Lim Swee Say.
PM Lee has made no secret of his plans for leadership renewal. The 4G batch provides a diverse pool age-wise, with a median age of 45 – the youngest being Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health Amrin Amin, 39. Pundits are already shortlisting the likes of Mr Chan, Mr Ong and Mr Heng to be the next PM.
But if the Super Seven has taught us anything, it’s that not everyone chosen can stand the heat. It remains to be seen who stays and who leaves the kitchen.
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